The Punchestown Festival comes under orders on Tuesday and top jock Ruby Walsh joins the Paddy Power blog team as many of Ireland’s record 14 winners turn out again at the five-day showpiece of Irish racing.
Day 2, Wednesday, April 24
Inish Island ran a cracker to finish third to At Fishers Cross in Cheltenham- who franked the form at Aintree. Ballycasey missed the race at Cheltenham but has been in good form at home since and I may choose to ride him in the .
Kauto Stone looks like he’s going to take his chance in the Punchestown Gold Cup (5.30). He won well at Down Royal beating First Lieutenant but has been disappointing since. Paul Nicholls has completely freshened him up since then and if he ran like he did at Down Royal he’d have a chance – if he doesn’t he won’t. I’m not sure if the heavy ground will help or hinder him. I think Sir Des Champs will be okay on the ground. I watched him canter on Tuesday morning and seemed well after his Gold Cup exploits when second to Bobs Worth. First Lieutenant has run well all season but has been to Newbury, Cheltenham and Aintree so whether that has an effect we’ll have to see. Long Run takes his chance too.
Patrick (Mullins) takes over on Briar Hill in the Champion Bumper (6.05) after he won for me at Cheltenham. He shows nothing at home and keeps his best for the track but is trying to emulate Champagne Fever (2012) Cousin Vinny (2008) by ‘doubling up’ after winning the the Cotswolds in March.
Day 3, Thursday, April 25
Quevega is in great form but this could be as tough a renewal in the World Hurdle (5.30) as she’s faced in her three wins to date here. She showed her class to get herself to get out of trouble at the Festival but Solwhit was very good at Cheltenham and Aintree. l. There looks to be plenty of pace in the race so it shouldn’t be a messy affair and the best horse should win. I’m hoping its Quevega. Reve De Sivola is a likely traveller from the UK but I can’t see any reason why he’ll reverse the form with Solwhit on their Cheltenham run.
Arvika Legionnaire, Marito and Twinlight could all contest the Ryanair Novice Steeplechase but I haven’t decided who I’ll ride yet. Marito was staying on well when he fell in the Jewson while Twinlight is a better horse going right-handed over 2m and is a reliable yard stick. I’ll have to wait and see what happens before I call it and there’s some stiff opposition in the entries among Baily Green, Benefficient and recent Fairyhouse winner Realt Mor.
Day 4, Friday, April 26
I told Paddy Hurricane Fly would cost him a fortune at Cheltenham and I was right. The Fly has to contend with Rock on Ruby again on Friday (5.30) but we beat him in the away leg and I’m hoping he can make home advantage count. Pont Alexandre (6.05) looks to redeem his reputation in the Grade One Novice Hurdle when turned over as many people’s idea of the Irish banker at Cheltenham. Has done nothing wrong on soft ground and should be slightly better suited by going right handed. Pique Sous will want the ground to dry out a bit and Un Atout could go there too so it’s going to be competitive.
Day 5, Saturday, April 27
Annie Power will run in the Grade One Mares Hurdle (3.45). She’s unbeaten in seven races and has gotten better with each run. Our Conor sets the standard in the Champion Four Year Old Hurdle (4.25) and was very impressive in the Triumph Hurdle at Cheltenham. But juveniles are juveniles and when they have to step up and take on the men next year you’ll find out how good they are then.
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Day 1, Tuesday April 23
Sprinter Sacre is the star of the show in the Champion Chase and has the opposition running scared.
I ride Supreme Novice Hurdle winner Champagne Fever (4.20) and he’s entitled to be favourite. He beat My Tent or Yours at Cheltenham – who franked the form at Aintree – with Jetski back in third. It’s a good race with Mouse Morris’s Rule the World also in the mix after finishing second to The New One at the Festival.
Champagne Fever acts on the track, handles the ground and we’re hoping for a big run.
Tennis Cap (4.55) won two handicaps this season and was placed in the County Hurdle but disappointed on ground that was maybe too quick at Fairyhouse. He’s crept up the handicap and carries 11-7 which will make life hard for him. Willie also runs Taisitiocht who gets in on 10st and this one could run a big race if she has enough experience for a 20-runner handicap in a race that Paddy Power is paying 1/4 the odds the first five places.
I’ve gone for Back In Focus in the 3m 1f Novice Chase (6.40) but it was a tough call. He’s a real mudlark, a sound jumper and stays forever and that could give him the edge on the forecast heavy going. I’ve no doubt that Boston Bob may be the classier individual on good ground but this race will be a right slog and you’ll need to grind it out.
Willie Mullins now trains Moyle Park (6.05) who beat Blackmail at Leopardstown over Christmas and comes here with a big reputation while Dr Schultz makes his debut. Wicklow Brave (7.15) also runs for the first time in what are competitive races.